A handful of popular, eerily similar anti-quarantine groups founded last week have been traced back to the Dorr family, a group of brothers who appear to live in different states, and together, help man a network of nearly-identical state-based gun rights nonprofits as directors and policy advisors. Brothers Aaron, Ben, and Christopher Dorr can also be found adminning anti-quarantine groups such as Wisconsinites Against Excessive Quarantine, Pennsylvanians Against Excessive Quarantine, New Yorkers Against Excessive Quarantine, Ohioans Against Excessive Quarantine, and Reopen Minnesota—which, between them, have well over 200,000 members. The trio are members of the board of directors of the American Firearms Coalition and directors, authors, and policy advisors on groups such as Wyoming Gun Owners, Iowa Gun Owners, Ohio Gun Owners, Minnesota Gun Rights, and the Missouri Firearms Coalition.
Ben Dorr’s latest post on Wisconsinites Against Excessive Quarantine urges people to click a link that redirects to a petition for the Wisconsin Firearms Coalition:
MASSIVE! We want to ReOpen Wisconsin! We want our small businesses to survive! We want out from behind quarantined walls! We want to be FREE!
Click the link and DEMAND that Governor Evers end this quarantine! Demand he www.ReOpenWI.com!
Across the pages, admin rules forbid Change.org petitions “which never get delivered anyway” and direct users to follow the “ReOpen” links, which all lead to the pro-gun organisations’ sites.
The group’s panic over government coronavirus measures seems to have stemmed from fears that government officials could suspend the sale and transportation of firearms if it were necessary for public safety. In March, Aaron Dorr published a memo across the gun owner sites warning that, in his opinion, social distancing measures could doom their Second Amendment rights.
The American Firearms Coalition frames itself as at harder-core alternative to the NRA. They urge President Trump to reject “red flag” gun legislation (which allows law enforcement to temporarily take guns from a person who poses a risk to themselves or others), writing that the NRA has “betrayed” them:
The truth is that there is an open revolt underway right now, with grassroots gun owners leaving the NRA in droves, furious with this latest betrayal. You can see this for yourself by spending five minutes on their social media platforms.
Interestingly, Trump seems to have picked up what the pro-gun anti-quarantine folk are laying down. He pieced two and two together last week in a tweet: “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!” (“LIBERATE” is largely understood as code for “revolt against stay-at-home measures.”) When asked about his support for anti-quarantine protests in a coronavirus task force briefing on Saturday, Trump brought up Virginia’s recent sweep of gun control measures, unprompted, saying “they are using this [the crisis], they are trying to take your guns away.”
LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 17, 2020
He may have noticed that protestors have been flying Trump flags.
Stay-at-home orders remain in place across much of the country. As resentment grows, protests of the lockdown continue to pop up. CNN's @miguelmarquez is in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, at the scene of one of the protests.
Watch on Facebook. https://t.co/wZ9dP1rzm0
— CNN (@CNN) April 20, 2020
Facebook told the Washington Post that it has removed events that break laws in states where social distancing rules are in place, such as New Jersey and California, but it hasn’t removed events like “drive-in” protests.
Mark Zuckerberg clarified today to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that Facebook classifies protests that violate social distancing measures as “harmful misinformation” and takes them down, but a Facebook spokesperson again hedged, in a statement to The Hill, that it only removes protests that violate state laws.
Today, protestors appear to have piled on top of each other with no masks in Harrisburg, PA, where social distancing guidelines are in place. As of this writing, the Dorrs’ Pennsylvania group shows a graphic for the rally, “Operation Gridlock,”as its background image and lists the protest on its event page under six names, some describing it as a “drive-in rally,” another as a “march.” (In a video caption from the event, Christopher Dorr writes that police allowed protestors to conduct an open-air march.) Pennsylvania currently has a stay-at-home order in place, limiting trips out of the house to essential tasks and outdoor activities that maintain social distancing guidelines. Governor Tom Wolf has asked police to remind people of the rules, rather than enforce them.
You could glean from this that the anti-quarantine movement isn’t as sprawling and organic as it’s made out to be, and you may be right. Similar groups that don’t list Dorrs as admins tend to be much smaller (Missouri, Illinois, New Jersey, Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, Maine, California, Tennessee, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Vermont). But an apparently-unaffiliated Michigan page has 365,688 members alone.
Gizmodo reached out to Facebook asking why the network of groups posing as grassroots state anti-quarantine efforts doesn’t constitute “coordinated inauthentic behaviour” and will update the post if we hear back. The Dorrs, through the pro-gun coalition sites, have not responded to request for comment.